Man of Medan Review
So you like horror stories, eh? Well, this one is filled with edge-of-your-seat suspense and ghostly chills the likes of which you won’t expect. Is it based on fact? You be the judge.
Man of Medan is the first part of, what is in my opinion, the best brain-bomb of a series called “The Dark Pictures Anthology” developed by the creators of Until Dawn – Supermassive Games – and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. It was released for our horrified pleasure on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows, as of the 30th of August 2019. The series will consist of Eight games, with the second being close to release, as Supermassive has detailed that they plan to release the sequels every six months, and from what I can see, “Little Hope” already looks to be something to look forward to. Supermassive Games was pleased with the reception of 2015’s Until Dawn and saw that there was a huge market for interactive horror drama games, so they planned to expand the genre to a larger audience. Man of Medan was inspired by the urban legend of the SS Ourang Medan, and the story that Supermassive created for this entry into the Dark Pictures is certainly one to experience.
Ghosts on the Water
Like I mentioned above, the story revolves around the SS Ourang Medan. A group of four Americans, along with their Skipper, head out on a dive boat to the South Pacific in search of a rumoured World War II plane wreck with treasure on, although things don’t quite go as planned. As the day progresses, a storm approaches, and brings with it some unwanted events that leads to the group of 5 being trapped on a ghost ship; the Ourang Medan. The crew’s worst nightmares come to pass within the spooky halls, as they find themselves needing to make split-second life-or-death decisions in order to survive and escape the hell. The decisions that get made in the game will have both immediate, and lasting consequences that comes to taunt you in later chapters. Do you have what it takes to survive in the “Man of Medan”?
I think it was really clever of Supermassive Games to make use of real urban legends to base their stories on. The SS Ourang Medan, which was a ghost ship, had been stranded in the Dutch East Indies in the late 1940s during the World War. The shipwreck was found, and the crew were discovered having died under mysterious circumstances, with their faces twisted into horrified expressions, indicating that the crew members had been terrified of something at the moment of death, despite having no markings or injuries depicting an external cause of death. Even the ship was undamaged. When an attempt was made to bring the ship back to port, there was an explosion on the ship, and it sunk underwater. Of course, the story was changed a bit to allow for the game to take place on the ship above water, but the rest of these details get shown within the game, along with brilliant story-telling. As the playable characters, you explore this ship, and find the bodies of the crew, now mostly skeletal husks, and see the expressions and positions of their bodies, along with other spooky-scary events, and see whether or not what happened on the ship was supernatural or if there was a rational explanation.
In Man of Medan we get treated with a lot of elements that Until Dawn didn’t have, and we can expect the rest of the series to be like this, if not better. The tone of The Dark Pictures Anthology gets set very early on, having a more mature take on the survival horror drama, although the pace is a little slow in the beginning. It’s only once the characters find themselves on the boat that things ramp up in speed again, and boy does it take off! The introductory sequence to our characters refreshes us on the characters’ traits, although as to what these traits actually help with is still a wonder. There are times when you are able to unlock a new trait for your character, which might lead to a new choice later on that might not have been available at first. The speculation behind character traits is uncertain, although it would seem that even those affect the consequences of decisions that get made.
I am a big fan of games that rely on choices and consequences in order to drive the story in any direction you might see fit. I often try to get the best ending possible, though getting that in this is quite challenging. The game introduces a character, much like Until Dawn’s therapist, called “The Curator”, who interrupts our story every now and then to commend or criticize our choices in this story that we are helping to create. He often alludes to the fact that he knows what will happen in this story, and gives you the option of him giving you hints to help you save characters, or for you to continue on your own. If your goal is to save the characters, his clues are very vague, but very helpful if you remember at the right moments. I managed to keep everyone alive until the crucial final chapter, where I forgot one of his tips, and only remembered at the moment of having made my choice – costing me deeply. My coveted perfect ending had eluded me, at least until I was able to replay that very chapter and recover my mistake. With that being said, it still wasn’t the perfect ending, because a decision I had made way before everybody got trapped on the ship came back to bite my in the butt at the end.
Two Can Play With Death
This game needs to be experienced more than once, and can be done in many ways. Your characters choices are split between “Heart” and “Mind” choices. Sometimes you need to go with your gut, and other times the more rational, and safe, route is recommended. If you’d like to see what happens when you make a different choice, you will be able to once you unlock the chapter selection screen after your first playthrough. You will definitely want to do this to skip the introductory chapter that serves both as what sets the scene, and as a tutorial. The movement can be a bit uncomfortable, unfortuntely. I often found my character difficult to move after he/she got stuck bumping into a wall, and it felt like I had to physically push them in order to orient them in the right direction. That is probably my only complaint in the game, as all the other aspects, such as the graphics and the sounds were on-point!
Another way to experience the game is through the Multiplayer option called “Don’t Play Alone” – where you can play online with a friend, or locally with up to 5 players, being able to choose your character and then needing to pass the controller along to whoever has chosen to control said character. Here you can decide on what route you would like to take and discuss the choices that can be made. Some choices can be made at relative length, while others require split-second decision making, like in the QTEs, where you’ll have to have faith in your friends’ reaction time or ability to make the correct choice, depending on your goals. You can go “slasher style” and attempt to get everybody killed in various ways, since characters can be killed off in many different chapters, or “desperate survivor”, which I already covered. I would definitely recommend playing with a friend – the thrill of experiencing different perspectives at the same or different times is rewarding on a different level, which is all I can say, because there is much that could be said that could potentially spoil what happens in this entry.
Man of Medan is a great way to start off the Dark Pictures Anthology, a series that seems to promise horror on a psychological level on various occasions. The choices you make have a direct influence on the story, more than you will initially realise. The graphics is exceptionally good, with brilliantly crafted motion captured character models and severely unnerving scenes that play out. The sounds and music scores are perfect for this series, and we can look forward to more great entries that can be experienced with friends, or on your own. At the time of this review, Man of Medan can be bought from BTGames for XBox One and PS4 at R555.00 each, and on Steam for PC at R449.00